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  • Our plans for winter

  • Winter weather can pose a real challenge to the railway - here's how we're working with new technology and equipment to keep lines open and trains running during the colder months.

    Snow plough trainWeather forecasting

    High winds and saturated ground can be as big a problem as ice on the tracks or snowdrifts.

    Accurate forecasts and live data help us focus our resources and keep key lines and stations open.

    • Our weather stations provide real-time wind, temperature and soil moisture data, all accessible directly by smartphone and PC
    • Meteo Group provides us with specialist forecasts of factors that can affect the tracks

    Frozen points

    Ice build-up causes big problems for moving parts like points, which move trains from one track to another. Snow can get compacted into solid blocks of ice by passing trains causing points to become stuck.

    What we’re doing

    • Heaters have been fitted to stop water freezing and jamming the mechanism
    • NASA-grade insulation has been added to points to prevent water collecting and freezing
    • Thousands of staff patrol the tracks day and night clearing snow and ice from junctions
    • Our remote monitoring equipment and a helicopter with thermal imaging cameras identify points heaters that aren’t working effectively
    • We’ve added protective covers to 4,000 points and 2,500 point motors to keep ice out and prevent damage by ice falling from passing trains

    Ice on the tracks

    Ice forms on rails in damp, cold conditions even without rain or snow. For safety reasons, sometimes we have to impose speed restrictions when tracks are icy.

    In the South East, ice can build up on the conductor rail - the "third rail" – in places where trains stop (stations, junctions etc), preventing them drawing power.

    What we’re doing

    • Our six Snow and Ice Treatment Trains are fitted with snow ploughs and quickly de-ice tracks with hot-air blowers, steam jets, heated anti-freeze, compressed air, brushes and scrapers; they generally operate overnight to fit in around passenger schedules
    • Train operators run empty "ghost trains" through the night to prevent snow and ice building up
    • In the most affected areas, track has been re-layed over a shallower bed of ballast to reduce track movement when ice freezes between the stones and expands
    • Since 2010 we’ve installed thousands of metres of heating strips along conductor rails, reducing ice-related incidents by up to 80% compared to similar conditions before installation
    • We’ve equipped a number of passenger trains to spray anti-icing fluid directly onto the conductor rail

    Icy trains

    Winter conditions affect trains too, with ice build-up causing many problems including jamming doors.

    What we’re doing

    We've been working with train operators to modify rolling stock. Improvements include:

    • Upgrades to train software to optimise performance in winter weather
    • Hardware improvements such as heated couplings and changes to doors to prevent ice build-up

    Deep snow

    If it is windy and the snow forms drifts, it causes additional problems - trains cannot run if snow reaches around 30cm (12 inches) unless they’re fitted with snowploughs.

    What we’re doing

    • Passenger trains can be fitted with snow ploughs which can clear up to 6 feet of snow – if it gets any deeper we have to send in dedicated snow ploughs
    • Major lines that are the most at risk have been fitted with fences to prevent snow blowing on to the tracks

    Fallen trees or branches

    Heavy snow and wind cause branches to break off trees alongside the track, which can block the tracks or damage overhead wires.

    What we’re doing

    • Our country-wide teams cut back vegetation that is too close to the track, but with over 30,000 hectares of lineside vegetation along 20,000 miles of track this is a continuous challenge

    Tunnel ice

    When groundwater seeps through tunnel linings, it can form sheets of ice on the walls. These can be dislodged and damage passing trains.

    What we’re doing

    • Teams patrol affected tunnels, safely removing ice before it can cause problems

    Our contingency plans

    Sometimes conditions are too extreme to continue running trains as normal. In severe circumstances we have plans in place to run reduced services and keep key lines open.

    • We have agreed emergency timetables with train operators
    • There's a strategy in place for every route so that in the event of severe weather we can concentrate our resources on the main junctions and stations and keep the key parts of the network running
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